Author Archive: Jennifer Groves

May 7, 2013

Tips from the Abuse Department: DMCA Takedown Notices

If you are in the web hosting business or you provide users with access to store content on your servers, chances are that you're familiar with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). If you aren't familiar with it, you certainly should be. All it takes is one client plagiarizing an article or using a filesharing program unscrupulously, and you could find yourself the recipient of a scary DMCA notice from a copyright holder. We've talked before about how to file a DMCA complaint with SoftLayer, but we haven't talked in detail about SoftLayer's role in processing DMCA complaints or what you should do if you find yourself on the receiving end of a copyright infringement notification.

The most important thing to understand when it comes to the way the abuse team handles DMCA complaints is that our procedures aren't just SoftLayer policy — they are the law. Our role in processing copyright complaints is essentially that of a middleman. In order to protect our Safe Harbor status under the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA), we must enforce any complaint that meets the legal requirements of a takedown notice. That DMCA complaint must contain specific elements and be properly formatted in order to be considered valid.

Responding to a DMCA Complaint

When we receive a complaint that meets the legal requirements of a DMCA takedown notice, we must relay the complaint to our direct customer and enforce a deadline for removal of the violating material. We are obligated to remove access to infringing content when we are notified about it, and we aren't able to make a determination about the validity of a claim beyond confirming that all DMCA requirements are met.

The law states that SoftLayer must act expeditiously, so if you receive notification of a DMCA complaint, it's important that you acknowledge the ticket that the abuse department opened on your account and let us know your intended course of action. Sometimes that action is as simple as removing an infringing URL. Sometimes you may need to contact your client and instruct them to take the material down. Whatever the case may be, it's important to be responsive and to expressly confirm when you have complied and removed the material. Failure to acknowledge an abuse ticket can result in disconnection of service, and in the case of copyright infringement, SoftLayer has a legal obligation to remove access to the material or we face serious liability.

DMCA Counter Notifications

Most DMCA complaints are resolved without issue, but what happens if you disagree with the complaint? What if you own the material and a disgruntled former business partner is trying to get revenge? What if you wrote the content and the complaining party is copying your website? Thankfully there are penalties for filing a false DMCA complaint, but you also have recourse in the form of a counter notification. Keep in mind that while it may be tempting to plead your case to the abuse department, our role is not to play judge or jury but to allow the process to work as it was designed.

In some cases, you may be able to work out a resolution with the complaining party directly (misunderstandings happen, licenses lapse, etc.) and have them send a retraction, but most of the time your best course of action is to submit a counter notification.

Just as a takedown notice must be crafted in a specific way, counter notifications have their own set of requirements. Once you have disabled the material identified in the original complaint, we can provide your valid, properly formatted counter notification to the complaining party. Unless we receive a court order from the complaining party within the legally mandated time frame the material can be re-enabled and the case is closed for the time being.

While it might sound complicated, it's actually pretty straightforward, but we urge you to do your research and make sure you know what to do in the event a client of yours is hit with a DMCA takedown notice. Just as we are unable to make judgment calls when it comes to takedown notices or counter notifications, we are also unable to offer any legal advice for you if you need help. Hopefully this post cleared up a few questions and misconceptions about how the abuse department handles copyright complaints. In short:

Do take DMCA notifications seriously. You are at risk for service interruption and possible legal liability.
Do respond to the abuse department letting them know the material has been disabled and, if applicable, if you plan to file a counter notification.
Don't refuse to disable the material. Even if you believe the claim is false and you wish to file a counter notification, the material must be disabled within the time period allotted by the abuse department or we have to block access to it.
Don't expect the abuse department to take sides.

As with any abuse issue, communication and responsiveness is important. Disconnecting your server is a last resort, but we have ethical and legal obligations to uphold. The DMCA process certainly has its weaknesses and it leaves a bit to be desired, but at the end of the day, it's the law, and we have to operate inside of our legal obligation to it.

-Jennifer

June 25, 2012

Tips from the Abuse Department: Part 2 - Responding to Abuse Reports

If you're a SoftLayer customer, you don't want to hear from the Abuse department. We know that. The unfortunate reality when it comes to hosting a server is that compromises can happen, mistakes can be made, and even the most scrupulous reseller can fall victim to a fraudulent sign-up or sly spammer. If someone reports abusive behavior originating from one of your servers on our network, it's important to be able to communicate effectively with the Abuse department and build a healthy working relationship.

Beyond our responsibility to enforce the law and our Acceptable Use Policy, the Abuse department is designed to be a valuable asset for our customers. We'll notify you of all valid complaints (and possibly highlight security vulnerabilities in the process), we'll assist you with blacklist removal, we can serve as a liaison between you and other providers if there are any problems, and if you operate an email-heavy platform or service, we can help you understand the steps you need to take to avoid activity that may be considered abuse.

At the end of the day, if the Abuse department can maintain a good rapport with our customers, both our jobs can be easier, so I thought this installment in the "Tips from the Abuse Department" series could focus on some best practices for corresponding with Abuse from a customer perspective.

Check Your Tickets

This is the easiest, most obvious recommendation I can give. You'd be surprised at how many service interruptions could be avoided if our customers were more proactive about keeping up with their open tickets. Our portal is a vital tool for your business, so make sure you are familiar with how to access and use it.

Keep Your Contact Information Current

Our ticket system will send notifications to the email address you have on file, so making sure this information is correct and current is absolutely crucial, especially if you aren't in the habit of checking the ticket system on a regular basis. You can even set a specific address for abuse notifications to be sent to, so make use of this option. The quicker you can respond to an abuse report, the quicker the complaint can be resolved, and by getting the complaint resolved quickly, you avoid any potential service interruption.

If we are unable to reach you by ticket, we may need to call you, so keep your current phone numbers on file as well.

Provide Frequent Updates

Stay in constant communication in the midst of responding to an abuse report, and adhere to the allotted timeline in the ticket. If we don't see updates that the abusive behavior is being addressed in the grace period we are able to offer, your server is at risk of disconnection. By keeping us posted about the action you're taking and the time you need to resolve the matter, we're able to be more flexible.

If a customer on your servers created a spamming script or a phishing account, taking immediate steps to mitigate the issue by suspending that customer is another great way to respond to the process while you're performing an investigation of how that activity was started. We'll still want a detailed resolution, but if the abuse is not actively ongoing we can work with you on deadlines.

Be Concise ... But Not Too Concise

One-word responses: bad. Page long responses: also not ideal. If given the option we would opt for the latter, but your goal should be to outline the cause and resolution of any reported abusive activity as clearly and succinctly as possible in order to ease communication and expedite closing of the ticket.

Responding to a ticket with, "Fixed," is not sufficient to for the Abuse department to consider the matter resolved, but we also don't need a dump of your entire log file. Before the Abuse team can close a ticket, we have to see details of how the complaint was resolved, so if you don't provide those details in your first response, you can bet we'll keep following up with you to get them. What details do we need?

Take a Comprehensive Approach

In addition to stopping the abusive activity we want to know:

  1. How/why the issue occurred
  2. What steps are being taken to prevent further issues of that nature

We understand that dealing with abuse issues can often feel like a game of Whack-A-Mole, but if you can show that you're digging a bit deeper and taking steps to avoid recurrence, that additional work is very much appreciated. Having the Abuse department consider you a proactive, ethical and responsible customer is a worthy goal.

Be Courteous

I'm ending on a similar note to my last blog post because it's just that important! We understand getting an abuse ticket is a hassle, but please remember that we're doing our best to protect our network, the Internet community and you.

Unplugging your server is a last resort for us, and we want to make sure everyone is on the same page to prevent us from getting to that last resort. In the unfortunate event that you do experience an abuse issue, please refer back to this blog — it just might save you some headaches and perhaps some unnecessary downtime.

-Jennifer

June 18, 2012

Tips from the Abuse Department: Part 1 - Reporting Abuse

SoftLayer has a dedicated team working around the clock to address complaints of abuse on our network. We receive these complaints via feedback loops from other providers, spam blacklisting services such as Spamcop and Spamhaus, various industry contacts and mailing lists. Some of the most valuable complaints we receive are from our users, though. We appreciate people taking the time to let us know about problems on our network, and we find these complaints particularly valuable as they are non-automated and direct from the source.

It stands to reason that the more efficient people are at reporting abuse, the more efficient we can be at shutting down the activity, so I've compiled some tips and resources to make this process easier. Enjoy!

Review our Legal Page

Not only does this page contain our contact details, there's a wealth of information on our policies including what we consider abuse and how we handle reported issues. For starters, you may want to review our AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) to get a feel for our stance on abuse and how we mitigate it.

Follow Proper Guidelines

In addition to our own policies, there are legal aspects we must consider. For example, a claim of copyright infringement must be submitted in the form of a properly formatted DMCA, pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Our legal page contains crucial information on what is required to make a copyright claim, as well as information on how to submit a subpoena or court order. We take abuse very seriously, but we must adhere to the law as well as our privacy policy in order to protect our customers' businesses and our company from liability.

Include Evidence

Evidence can take the form of any number of things. A few common examples:

  • A copy of the alleged spam message with full headers intact.
  • A snippet from your log file showing malicious activity.
  • The full URL of a phishing page.

Without evidence that clearly ties abusive activity to a server on our network, we are unable to relay a complaint to our customer. Keep in mind that the complaint must be in a format that allows us to verify it and pass it along, which typically means an email or hard copy. While our website does have contact numbers and addresses, email is your best bet for most types of complaints.

Use Keywords

We use a mail client specifically developed for abuse desks, and it is configured with a host of rules used for filtering and prioritization. Descriptive subject lines with keywords indicating the issue type are very useful. Including the words "Spam," "Phishing" or "Copyright" in your subject line helps make sure your email is sent to the correct queue and, if applicable, receives expedited processing. Including the domain name and IP address in the body of the email is also helpful.

Follow Up

We work hard to investigate and resolve all complaints received however, due to volume, we typically do not respond to complaining parties. That said, we often rely on user complaints to determine if an issue has resumed or is ongoing so feel free to send a new complaint if activity persists.

Be Respectful

The only portion of your complaint we are likely to relay to our customer is the evidence itself along with any useful notes, which means that paragraph of profanity is read only by hardworking SoftLayer employees. We understand the frustration of being on the receiving end of spam or a DDOS, but please be professional and try to understand our position. We are on your side!

Hopefully you've found some of this information useful. When in doubt, submit your complaint to abuse@softlayer.com and we can offer further guidance. Stay tuned for Part 2, where I'll offer suggestions for SoftLayer customers about how to facilitate better communication with our Abuse department to avoid service interruption if an abuse complaint is filed against you.

-Jennifer

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